I hate having kit in my bag that I never use! On the other hand, I don’t expect everything to work perfectly all the time and this is certainly true with Overlanding so, compromise and versatility is the key. My first experience of truck life was at the tender age of 17 while hitch hiking across Africa. I was offered a lift by an overland truck doing the great Trans- Africa route.
“We don’t mind giving you a lift, mate, but you better have everything you need to sleep out cause we’re not here to take care of you” he said “and by the way you’re doing all the washing up, pitching all the tents, and unloading everyone’s bags into them every night.”
“Fair do’s boss” was the only reply I could make to get on that truck with a happy band of Overlanders.
It was unloading their bags that practically killed me! Full of clothing that meant big wash days. Sleeping bags that were either too warm or not warm enough depending on where we were or the season. I began to realise that versatility and adaptability where the key to good Overlanding where you are faced with such a variety of conditions. What follows is my top ten tips for getting the most out of what’s in your bag.
If you can get your head around it layering is great. Nomad has created the Variant Three, this is a light weight sleeping bag that can also be worn as a poncho! Brilliant on early morning starts on the truck, just wear it and go back to sleep, or use it at night whilst sitting round the camp fire. Combine it with a 1 season sleeping bag to get extra warmth when heading for colder climates.
An item that will sit in your bag and rarely be used. Take a poncho like the Travelproof Expedition Poncho. It covers more of you. It’s breathable because it’s not close fitting but the main benefit is its versatility. Use it as a ground sheet to sit on, rig it as a Sun awning or wrap it round your sleeping bag for a night under the stars.
There are now packable options that are extremely light. They have a distinct advantage over a traditional fleece. The main being they are wind proof. On open, exposed areas wind chill can be a problem. They are also versatile some, like the Nomad Fuego Mens & Womens will pack down into an inner pocket to form a small pillow. Not having a pillow is the scourge of the Overlander, nothing worse than waking up with a stiff neck. If the temperatures really drop at night you can wear it inside your bag, this will increase the warmth dramatically. Now… what to do about a pillow?
There is an obsession with head torches! Great if you want to be hands free but a pain for others sitting around at night being blinded by each others torches and an attraction to flying insects and the lights between your eyes! I still pack a head torch, one that has the benefit of a red light (doesn’t attract insects, destroy your night vision or blinds those sitting around you! It takes small button batteries so you can pack plenty of spares. My favourite torch, though, is the AAA LED Maglite hand torch. It has an amazingly strong beam and it can be turned into a candle light for the tent. You will use a torch a lot Overlanding so carrying two is sensible.
The sarong is probably the most versatile clothing you can take. A dress, headdress, face wrap from dust, a pillow cover and even a towel! Pack one. Actually I don’t but I do pack a bandana. Made of cotton it’s is a mini sarong. Not quite as versatile but packs away so small it will fit in a pocket.
This isn’t so much a look at what is versatile or multi -purpose as at what is fit for purpose and practical (though it would be great if someone could invent a bag that turned into a tent!) .You’re living out of this bag, often moving on each day so to have one like a rucksack that you need to unload to get to the bottom just does not make sense. The basic to go for is a holdall with a large zip opening. They are relatively cheap, easy to stow on the truck and can take being thrown around. More of an investment would be a travel pack. They open like a suitcase, usually come with a day pack attached and have a back system (shoulder straps and hip belt) that hides away. This should be considered if you are travelling on from the truck or your next trip might be independent travel. Whichever bag you go for try to organise your bag using fold and clip dry bags and packing cubes. They will just make your life so much easier.
Top of the space saving list is the multi-purpose soap. They will clean you, your hair, your clothes and you can use them to shave with all in concentrated form.
Towels have moved on miles. Ordinary house towels are lovely when you first use them but give them a few days on the road and they become fetid damp and bulky! Try the compact micro towels. When they first appeared on the market they were more akin to a Brillo Pad but now there is choice, with many having the look and feel of a towelling towel though still quick drying and compact. This type of towel has the same multi use as a sarong. I use a chamois towel (the type used by swimmers). It’s the most compact and it works wet not dry! So it can double up as a shower mat to stand on in those dubious camp shower blocks.
You won’t need a huge multi-tool with saws and all but there are some essentials to look out for scissors, bottle opener and cork screw come to mind. Nomad have worked with Victorinox to produce the Climber+, nothing to do with climbing, but it takes these essentials and adds a tiny pen, a pin and a sunglass screw driver. All very useful.
Years spent travelling and sleeping under the stars have made me an early riser. Travelling in a group is a lot of fun but sometimes it’s great to spend some time on your own. What better than to take off and watch the sun come up with a brew now and then. All you will need is a Compact Solid Fuel Cooker, a stainless steel drinks bottle (to boil some water), a cup and the brew stuff. It can set you up for the day!